Friday, October 29, 2004

Votes, and the Voting Voters who Vote Them

Matthew Yglesias has an interesting take on compulsory voting -- i.e., not just giving people the right to vote, but actually enacting a legal requirement that people use their right to vote. I wouldn't mind seeing this, since I think it something of an embarassment that the country that is the poster child (or, at any rate, sees itself as the poster child for Democracy) can never get more than roughly 55 percent of the voting population to show up at the polls. The old saw is that "Decisions are made by the people who show up", so hell, let's just make everybody show up. Especially if it could stem the tide of negative advertising, whose goal is often suppression of turnout in favor of the "victim".

And while we're at it, the Electoral College needs to be changed. Personally, I'd do one of the following: get rid of it entirely; set it up so that each state's votes are distributed according to voting percentage in that state (i.e., get rid of "Winner take all"); or give every state the same number of electoral votes, thus totally leveling the electoral playing field. I know that small states seem to think the EC is just great because it gives them more power, but it really doesn't: the EC gives swing states more power. In terms of electoral votes, Hawaii is a small state, but nobody cares about Hawaii. I think it's a ridiculous scenario that Texas and New York both have more people than, say, Ohio, but both are being completely ignored by the campaigns for the Presidency. The people in Dallas and the people in Buffalo have just as much right to hear from the candidates for President, but under our current system, neither is as important as the people in Cleveland.

Of course, since I'm singing the Praises of Democracy here, I should in the interests of being "fair and balanced" provide a contrarian take. So here's what George Carlin once said about the whole thing:

You may have noticed that there's one thing I don't complain about: Politicians. Everybody complains about politicians. Everybody says, "They suck". But where do people think these politicians come from? They don't fall out of the sky. They don't pass through a membrane from another reality. No, they come from American homes, American families, American schools, American churches, American businesses, and they're elected by American voters. This is the best we can do, folks. It's what our system produces: Garbage in, garbage out.

....I have solved this political dilemma in a very direct way: I don't vote. On Election Day, I stay home. I firmly believe that if you vote, you have no right to complain. Now, some people like to twist that around. They say, "If you don't vote, you have no right to complain", but where's the logic in that? If you vote, and you elect dishonest, incompetent politicians, and they get into office and screw everything up, you are responsible for what they have done. You voted them in. You caused the problem. You have no right to complain.

I, on the other hand, who did not vote -- who did not even leave the house on Election Day -- am in no way responsible for that these politicians have done and have every right to complain about the mess that you created.

(I posted the Carlin quote on Election Day 2002, but it's always a good one to revisit.)

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